Starring: Zhou Xun, Liu Ye, Chen Kun
Director: Dai Sijie
Running Time: 111 mins
Balzac And The Little Chinese Seamstress is a Chinese/French film about two young men, sent to the mountains in Sichuan province for re-education in the early 1970s after the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution, who fall in love with the town’s little seamstress.
This film is jam-packed with a whole heap of genres that, while initially feeling a little jumbled, turns out to be hugely intriguing, emotional, entertaining and bittersweet. With three main characters that were fantastically interesting, and a romantic style that completely opposes the historical context of this film, this was a joy to watch.
Initially, however, the film isn’t so engrossing. The problem is that the main characters, before they really got to know the little seamstress, were pretty plain and boring, as were the opening stages of the story, and while I can see that this may mirror the characters’ own changes because of their meeting the seamstress, it’s not a particularly enjoyable start to the film.
Despite that, it really picks up after that, and becomes this incredible mix of feelings and themes and ideas that makes it so fascinating.
One of those ideas is the romanticised nature of the story and film itself. Centring around men sent for ‘re-education’, a pretty horrific process in reality, this film is in fact so delightful and is completely opposite to the history. To be honest, you forget entirely about the historical context of the story because it is indeed so romantic, as it’s that that you fall into a trance about, rather than the history.
The setting is another thing that really adds to the romanticised nature of it all. Again, in a central rural Chinese mountain village in the 1970s, it should be a totally underdeveloped and poor conditioned place, but the story uses its secluded, mountainside location to turn it into this heavenly-like setting, making it all the more lovely to watch.
Another theme is all about the power of education, literature and art. Set in a place with little contact with the rest of the world, you get to see the raw origins of how important and impacting these things can be, with just one book potentially being able to ‘change a person’s entire life’, and that was a hugely fascinating story line to follow along to as well.
While you do have all this happiness, however, there are a lot of moments of pure sadness, talking about loss, moving on, reminiscing and the terror of the modern world destroying the purity of the past, and at points, particularly towards the stunning end, I was close to tears such was the emotion of it all, so that’s why this film gets a 7.8 from me.